Senior party figures rush to play down the departure of chief election strategist
FRANK Flannery's shock departure will cause "minimal damage" to Fine Gael in the local elections, senior party figures insisted last night.
Although Mr Flannery was at the forefront of devising the party's local election strategy, sources said the former Rehab board member had already put in the groundwork ahead of polling day.
Several Fine Gael figures said they believed the decision by Enda Kenny to heap pressure on his party strategist to appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was a "factor" in his decision to quit.
"He and Kenny are very close. When the Taoiseach suggests there are questions to answer, you have to act on that," a minister told the Irish Independent.
Mr Flannery contacted a small number of allies in the party yesterday before informing General Secretary Tom Curran that he was stepping down from all roles within the party.
He later released a public statement which emphasised that he intended to remain on as an "ordinary Fine Gael member".
Party figures, including a number of ministers, last night said Mr Flannery's departure would leave a long-term void in Fine Gael.
"He helped revive the party following our disastrous showing in 2002. Frank was involved in lifting Fine Gael up off its knees and that shouldn't be forgotten," one Fine Gael minister told the Irish Independent.
Another minister said his departure "knocked me for six", adding: "Frank was Fine Gael through and through.
"He was a big believer in getting new blood on to the ballot paper and securing council and Dail seats," the source said.
However, TDs were quick to play down the potential impact Mr Flannery's exit could have on the party ahead of the local and European elections in May.
The deputies pointed out that the electoral strategy, which was devised by Mr Flannery among others, has already been put in place.